What Is 'Trauma Dumping'? Here's How To Know If You're Doing It.

Therapists explain how they feel about the concept that recently went viral and whether it's really possible to overshare in sessions.
There should be no such thing as "trauma dumping" when you're in therapy.
FreshSplash via Getty Images
There should be no such thing as "trauma dumping" when you're in therapy.

If you’re on the therapy side of TikTok, you may have seen a viral video posted by therapist Ilene Glance that drew so much backlash, she has since deleted her account, @sidequesttherapy.

Glance titled the clip “When a client wants to trauma dump first session” and captioned it “Not happening on my watch ever again.”

Not surprisingly, many other therapists (and people in general) posted their own videos in response, explaining how problematic and hurtful her message was and wondering why Glance would apparently disparage a client for talking about their traumatic experiences.

“Trauma dumping” is a buzzword on Twitter and a breakout term online, according to Google Trends. It describes “when a person, unprompted, shares or ‘dumps’ highly-personal, emotionally-charged, trauma-based information or a story on someone who is not a willing recipient,” said Kelly Kellerman, a licensed clinical social worker with Thriveworks in Michigan, who added: “It’s also referred to as oversharing.”

“This is different from venting about something that is bothering you, such as dating woes or a difficult boss,” said Billie Katz, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“When we bring up traumas with someone who is not prepared or professionally trained, we risk that they may act or react in a way that further triggers the speaker and unknowingly reinforces the trauma they experienced,” Katz explained.

Sharing is important, though, because trauma is something we need other people’s support in handling. We can’t just slip it under the rug. So where’s the balance between healthy sharing and unhelpful sharing?

“Therapy is the one space where you do not have to censor your trauma.”

- Tasha Bailey, therapist

“It is a good thing to find people to share our trauma with because connection builds safety, which allows us to heal from that trauma,” said Tasha Bailey, a therapist and content creator who specializes in trauma. “However, it is important for both of you that the receiver is ready and willing to support you in that.”

With your therapist, it’s their job to listen when you talk about your trauma ― despite what may have been implied in the viral TikTok video. There really should be no such thing as “trauma dumping” in a therapy session.

“Therapy is the one space where you do not have to censor your trauma,” Bailey said. “Sometimes the therapist might need to help the client slow down the narrative so that the work can happen on a deeper level, but essentially all trauma is welcome to be spoken about. Therefore, trauma dumping does not exist in therapy.”

Don’t believe anyone who implies you should censor yourself in therapy.

What is especially concerning about Glance’s TikTok video is that a therapist’s apparent dismissiveness of a client’s trauma could deter many people who aren’t in therapy from getting necessary treatment. A study in Psychological Medicine found that stigma is a major reason why people avoid getting help.

“This is so unbelievably dangerous because individuals who experience traumatic events should be seeking out mental health professionals,” Katz said. “The viral TikTok video insinuates that this type of sharing in session is ‘wrong’ and ‘bad,’ which may lead some viewers to not disclose their traumas for fear of trauma dumping.”

According to a study in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, traumatic life events are associated with suicidality, especially with men. Plus, trauma — especially when it’s unresolved — can lead to serious challenges such as eating disorders and self-harm.

“If a therapist doesn’t have the skills, training and supervision to handle receiving information from a client, they should not work with people who have experienced trauma,” Kellerman said. “It is upsetting to think that a therapist would say things that would turn people away from getting help or reinforce more shame and judgment because of what they experienced.”

It’s a double whammy. “Many trauma survivors take on caretaker roles in their normal lives, looking after other people in the way that they wish they had been looked after before or during their traumatic experience,” Bailey said. “This video could potentially trigger some clients to take on caretaker roles with their therapist, in fear of overloading them.”

If a therapist isn't receptive to what you're sharing and how you're sharing it, then they might not be a good fit.
Renata Angerami via Getty Images
If a therapist isn't receptive to what you're sharing and how you're sharing it, then they might not be a good fit.

Here’s how to talk about trauma in therapy.

Sharing your trauma in therapy is undoubtedly a tough experience. You may worry about how your therapist will respond, think you’re babbling, or look for signs they’re judging you. But you don’t need to feel discouraged.

“Feelings aren’t always neat and clean; sometimes it’s a messy process,” Kellerman said. “None of us, not even therapists, have shared our feelings or experiences perfectly every single time.”

Your therapist may understand what you’re going through firsthand. “They receive regular supervision and many are in therapy themselves,” Bailey said. “Therefore, you do not need to look after your therapist. Instead, let them look after you.”

“If you don’t feel comfortable opening up ― yes, even dumping ― to your therapists, you’re not going to get what you need out of the process.”

Ensuring you’ve found the right therapist can help. If your therapist is making you feel like you’re oversharing, that’s a red flag, that they’re not the therapist for you. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up ― yes, even dumping ― to your therapists, you’re not going to get what you need out of the process. You can find trauma-informed therapists in your area on Psychology Today’s website.

“It is important to find the right ‘fit’ between patient and provider so that the patient feels comfortable entering into vulnerable conversations about their past experiences,” Katz said. “In fact, the patient should be doing the majority of the talking … In return, patients should know what they deserve from a therapist … openness, authenticity, empathy, praise, and ultimately, skills to work through the impacts of their experiences.”

A necessary part of getting better is sharing what you’re going through, trauma and all. “The more I can learn about my patients and their experiences, the better I am able to serve them and support them in reaching their goals,” Katz added.

Your therapist can provide tips on coping with the trauma in a specific, effective way. “A therapist can help you learn how to release and sometimes contain the emotions,” Kellerman said.

So rest assured, you’re free to go to therapy and “trauma dump” all you want — because trauma dumping in therapy sessions doesn’t actually exist. By sharing your experiences and feelings, you can truly heal and get the treatment you deserve.

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